Turf Champ Heading to Main Track for Headliner of Saturday's Nine-Race $1 Million Event
The 5-year-old son of Great Notion, who pulled off a half-length upset over living legend Ben’s Cat in the Maryland Million Turf last year, will not be defending his title in the mile grass stakes Saturday. Instead, he will seek to add to his Maryland Million resume in the $150,000 Classic, the 1 1/8-mile headliner of the nine-race $1 million program for nominated horses sired by accredited Maryland stallions.
The Classic has been scheduled as the 10th race on an 11-race program highlighted by the 30th anniversary of the Jim McKay Maryland Million. First-race post time is set for 12:15 p.m.
Talk Show Man, a multiple-stakes winner on turf, is scheduled to seek his first stakes triumph on dirt in the Classic, which drew a field 11 colts and geldings. However, he is a multiple-race winner over Laurel’s main track.
“He trains on it all week and he trains good over it. We only put him on grass when we run him. I’m not worried at all about running him on dirt. He seems to handle both surfaces the same,” said Smith, noting Talk Show Man’s top speed figure was registered on dirt.
Nevertheless, Talk Show Man’s career highlight is undoubtedly last year’s Turf triumph over Ben’s Cat, the winner of 30 races and nearly $2.5 million in purses for owner/breeder/trainer King Leatherbury.
“Beating Ben’s Cat was something special. He’s a special horse. I thought my horse would run good, but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t know if we had enough horse to beat a horse like him,” said Smith, who has saddled the winners of five Maryland Million races. “We were very, very excited about it, as anyone would be. He ran a good race to get it done. I think the distance suited him more than Ben’s Cat. I think that’s the only reason we beat him.”
The career highlight was followed in succession with his career lowlight when Talk Show Man was bumped and fell in the Richard W. Small Stakes in his next start Nov. 15.
“He tore his knee up a little bit. We had to put stitches in there, but other than that we stopped on him for mental reasons more than physical,” Smith said. “We decided to give him some time to let him forget about what happened and then bring him back.”
Talk Show Man put the unfortunate incident behind him in his 2015 debut at Laurel while capturing a 1 1/8-mile allowance on dirt by 5 ½ lengths in handy fashion and recording his best speed figure. He returned to turf a month later, capturing the Henry Clark Stakes by a nose at Pimlico, but he is winless in four subsequent turf starts, including two graded-stakes tries.
“His last race was the most disappointing of them all. I thought he’d run big and he didn’t. He just didn’t fire,” said Smith, who saddled Talk Show Man for a very troubled fifth-place finish in the 2013 Maryland Million Classic.
Xavier Perez, who was aboard Talk Show Man for his Turf victory last year and his sharp 2015 debut on dirt, is scheduled to return to the saddle for the Classic.
Like Talk Show Man, Rebecca Davis’ Not Abroad was entered Wednesday in the Classic to seek his second Maryland Million triumph. However, should the 8-year-old gelding prevail Saturday, there will have been three years between victories. Not Abroad, who captured the 2012 Classic by four lengths, recently returned from a layoff of nearly three years to finish fourth in an optional claiming allowance at Laurel Oct. 2.
Not Abroad “retired” following a fifth-place finish in the 2012 Breeders Cup Marathon with earnings of more than $600,000, eight victories and 12 runner-up finishes in 34 starts.
“This horse is just so amazing, he wants to be a racehorse. He has just bloomed since he came back. So we’re going to grant him his wish,” trainer Lynn Ashby said.
Forest Boyce has been named to ride the son of Not For Love.
Hillwood Stable’s Phlash Phelps, undefeated in three starts this year, was entered by trainer Rodney Jenkins in both the Classic and the Turf but is expected to run in the latter.
“As long as it stays on the turf, he’ll run on the turf,” trainer Rodney Jenkins said. “If the main track comes up sloppy and the race is taken off the turf, he’ll run in the Classic.
Neal Berch’s I’m Mr. Blue enters the Classic with a string of four straight second-place finishes in allowance company at Laurel. Sinatra Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding’s Admirals War Chest finished third, less than a length behind I’m Mr. Blue, in a seven-furlong Laurel allowance before stretching out to win a two-turn allowance at Penn National by six lengths in his most recent start.
Gary Barber’s Bullheaded Boy, a 3-year-old son of Bullsbay who has been stakes-placed in state-bred races in New York, was entered in the Classic by trainer Todd Pletcher.
Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered KMSN Stable’s Fort Collins, a 5-year-old son of Not For Love who notched an allowance win at Presque Isle Downs two starts back.
Regal Soldier, claimed for $25,000 out of his last start by D Hatman Thoroughbreds and Kingdom Bloodstock, was crossed entered in the Classic and Sprint. Catalyst Stable, G2 Associates and Feebs Racing’s Titan Alexander finished fourth on turf in the Bert Allen Stakes at Laurel last time out.
Fran’s Buckaroo and Fred High round out the field.